Sunday, June 19, 2011

Was Gandhi a Politician?

It is a political season of fasting or Satyagraha. The Gandhian method of peaceful resistance powered by individual moral courage that has the potential of making the powerful government make concessions in favour or for welfare of masses. The moral courage comes from the justness of the cause and purity of conviction.

It was a great political strategy to deal with the British, hemmed on their sense of fair play.


Gandhiji wrote a letter to every English(wo)man in India in October 1920, addressing them as friends. “my faith in your good intentions is gone,” he wrote and added that “I know that what you will not yield to justice and reason, you will gladly yield to bravery.”

Gandhi explains, “You have ensured our incapacity to fight in open and honourable battle. Bravery on the battlefield is thus impossible for us. Bravery of the soul is still open to us. I am engaged in evoking that bravery.”

In the same letter he listed what British Empire means to India:
1. Exploitation of Indian resources for the benefit of Great Britain.
2. Ever increasing military expenditure, and a civil service most expensive in the world.
3. Extravagant working of every department in utter disregard of India’s poverty.
4. Traffic in intoxicating liquors and drugs for the purpose of sustaining top heave administration.
5. Progressively repressive legislation in order to suppress an ever-growing agitation seeking to give expression to a nation’s agony.
6. Degrading treatment of Indians residing in your dominions amongst others.


In the second letter of the series, Gandhi writes to every Englishman in India, on July 13, 1921, “I am trying to show one may detest the wickedness of a brother without hating him.” He claims to “be a fairly accurate student of human nature and vivisector of own feelings.” “I almost feel tempted to invite you to join me in the destroying of system that has dragged both you and is down.”

This was not a passive approach to seek change; here in this case freedom, it also brought about a change in the psyche of the whole nation. Mai-bap (subservient) outlook of the desi people was transformed into self-belief that we native Indian can take charge of our destiny. Gandhi used moral force to end political slavery and for social emancipation.

That got me thinking. Was Gandhi a politician? Or a social reformer? Or a morality crusader? The answer to this question is not easy. He successfully lead 30 million people towards the common goal of freedom, a political movement that was very liberal and all inclusive in nature, with deep understanding of economical, social and psychological aspects of how masses behave.

Fundamental was the understanding of the extent to which a Congress worker will be able to make personal sacrifice for the cause of freedom of the nation. As the personal sacrifice demanded of Satyagrahi, was putting family to risk, earning to dry. Given prevalent abject poverty, such movements were just not sustainable for more than a couple of weeks. And to garner that kind of courage in ordinary Congress worker required years of preparation. Gandhi did that well. He knew when to quit, as well. In 1922 Gandhi called off the entire Satyagraha, apologized, dubbing it as a “Himalayan blunder” as a mob of Satyagrahis burned down a police station in Chauri Chaura. Two dozen police officers were burned alive inside.

Gandhi was not an active politician but was active in politics, using morality, not pragmatism, or right mix of moral pragmatism, as a tool to great effect because he was aware of strengths and weakeness of Indians as well as of the British. He held no office but handpicked Congress Working Committee members. He enjoyed the veto power in Congress party proceedings. The only person who did challenge Gandhi's authority within Congress party was Subhash Chandra Bose. Though, others like Maulana Azad, did ventilate their differences, never did anything against the will of Gandhi.

Bose became Congress President for a second term in 1939 defeating Gandhi-nominated candidate Pattabhi Sitaramayya. Gandhi was not pleased, he made his displeasure public, "Subhash' victory is my defeat," Gandhi is reported to have said. But this victory was no respite to Bose. His life in Congress became very difficult due to non-cooperation of Gandhi's loyalists, he had to rescue himself by tendering resignation. Gandhi's supremacy over Congress was reaffirmed..

So Gandhi was obstinate, for sure, practiced politics unlike a politician. This needs a qualification. He was His obstinate, that was an outcome of some higher realisation of how to get ignorant leaders to agree to him and comply,  how massess behave, how long can they be pushed for a cause. Gandhi's knew what he was talking about. His understanding of non-violence as a strategy to defeat the British empire in their own game of colonialism was complete. Others in the Congress party argued that this was not pragmatic, almost utopian.

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